Nathan Poklar ’24
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, very few outside of Ukraine knew who Volodymyr Zelensky was. Yet, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Zelensky has solidified himself as the face of the Ukrainian national identity.
In 2019, Zelensky was elected President as an independent candidate in a landslide election. Viewed as an outsider, he had never held political office beforehand. Instead, his career consisted of him being a comedian, well-known for starring in the political satire Servant of the People as the President of Ukraine.
Upon winning, a BBC headline read: “Ukraine election: Comedian Zelensky wins presidency by landslide. ” People criticized Zelensky’s victory as nothing more than him winning on a wave of meaningless populism. In a time when Ukraine was facing severe corruption scandals and multiple territorial crises, many wondered if Ukraine could afford to be led by an inexperienced comedian. To the world’s surprise, he served phenomenally.
Ukraine’s yearly GDP growth increased to 3.3% under his presidency; roads were retrofitted throughout the country to support a quickly developing and sustainable public transit system; and all citizens can now submit government documents (such as tax reports) or apply for licenses via their mobile phone.
Now, in the face of the worst crisis his nation has ever seen, Zelensky has not capitulated. Digitally touring the world, Zelensky has addressed multiple governments, including the US Congress, the Parliament of Canada, and the European Union. He has secured his country billions of dollars worth of military aid, including thousands of Stinger missiles and Javelin anti-air systems— crucial weapons in the fight against Russia.
Zelensky’s pleas to the governments of the world have played a large part in the imposition of devastating sanctions against Russia. His influence within the media has helped to cultivate a sense of unity and support for the Ukrainian people that has never been seen before.
Zelensky’s influence within world politics, nevertheless, is not the thing that makes him the face of the Ukrainian resistance. Through social media and news outlets, he inspires Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian people alike.
Zelensky has used this to his advantage. He frequently posts patriotic messages whilst wearing simple, boot camp-like clothing either in his office or on the streets of Kyiv. But perhaps Zelensky’s most iconic quote was after he was offered to be evacuated from Ukraine. His response was a simple tweet: “I need ammunition, not a ride. ”
In 2019, no one would have predicted that any comedian could be capable of being an effective leader. Now, Zelensky has become the President Ukraine needs in its darkest hour.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich